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Claws

Just a couple more days, guys!

chang

“Hello, Kit.”

“Chang.” I cocked my head. “Sorry to crash in like this…sounded like serious stuff. Am I interrupting?”

Chang had an innate courtesy. He’d brush it off. Of course not. How are you, would you like some tea

To my surprise, the only response he made initially was to sigh.

It was a soft, heavy sigh, one that carried a world of weariness. “I had to call a family up north with grim news. An awful sort of call to make.”

“I…” I stopped for a moment. “I’m sorry. Are there…problems?”

An odd question to ask, maybe, but the look on Chang’s face wasn’t one that spoke of somebody who’d lived to see a ripe old age and then died peacefully in his sleep.

From the corner of his eye, he watched me. There was a strange expression to his features, as though he wanted to say something, but then he sighed and said, “No. Sit. I’ll fix tea. You’ll tell me why you’re here.”

There was no point in arguing.

Chang had fallen back on his role of courtesy.

There was no getting out of it now—and no chance of tugging out any details about that phone call, either.

I waited until I had my tea in hand—tea was a personal addiction of mine, almost as bad as the soaps and lotions and other girly things I bought obsessively. Breathing in the sweet and spicy scent, I sighed. I doctored it with sugar and cream. I liked my tea, with just a little more sugar than most people. Or a lot more sugar.

“How you can drink it that way confounds me,” Chang said. “I keep trying to break you of that habit, but it doesn’t work.”

“To each their own.” I shrugged and took my first sip. Perfect.

Chang had a look of amusement and revulsion on his face.

“When you spend a good ten years of your life scrapping just to get enough water and food to fill the hole in your belly, you develop odd cravings.” I shrugged it off.

Chang’s eyes fell away.

I scowled inwardly, wished I hadn’t said anything. I’d dealt with more abuse in my life than most people had ever heard of—I’d come to grips with what my family had done and generally dealt with it, in my own unique sort of way.

Sometimes, I was even able to not be ashamed of it. But it made other people uncomfortable. Honestly, that’s just plain stupid to me—it happened to me—if I can deal with it, then why can’t they?

But then I had to deal with people looking away, or lapsing into silence…or just…fading away.

“Sorry,” I said, my voice tense.

“Why?” Chang said quietly.

I stared at him, opened my mouth—then snapped it shut. “Fuck it. Never mind.”

But he was too insightful, by far. Unlike many shifters I knew, he didn’t just go by what his senses told him. He looked at people. Saw beneath the surface. Sometimes, he saw so deep, it pissed me off.

“I’m not aggravated with you for speaking of your childhood,” he said softly. “In a way, it…humbles me. I know you don’t always speak freely of your past, Kit.”

He rose.

The languid way he moved couldn’t be called pacing, not by any means.

But Chang rarely made wasted moves and the way he moved from the window at the back of his office to his wall of weapons then to his desk to straighten the non-existent clutter there before repeating the circuit was nothing but wasted movement. And it was done with all the elegance, grace and speed he did everything else with. “At the same time, the thought that any soul could treat a child as I know you were treated makes me…”

He looked up.

For the first time in all the time I’d known him, I saw a faint glow roll across his eyes.

The flash was gone so fast, I couldn’t even place it—just a glow of color too light to belong in that dark gaze, and then it was gone. “It angers me. Children should be treasured.”

“That’s how the world works sometimes.”

His eyes held mine. “And sometimes, the world sucks.”

“I’ve found myself thinking that a lot lately.”

“Yet another reason I like you, Kit. You are a wise woman.”

At that, I snorted. “I’m a lot of things—wise isn’t one of them.”

He chuckled and the tension in the air passed. He returned to his seat and faced me. “Let’s discuss why you’re here. Not that I’m not delighted to see you, of course.”

He’d never say it, but I suspected he had things to do, secrets to pass on and people who needed to kill or be killed.

That was his job, after all.

Since I respected that, I didn’t beat around the bush.

“I’m tracking down—or trying to track down—some information. I could use your help.”

He arched a brow as he lifted his tea cup to his lips.

He’d help if he could. I knew that. Just like I knew he’d stonewall me if he couldn’t.

“NHs are disappearing. I need to know about any shifters who have gone missing…specifically some in Georgia. I need information and if anybody has it, it’s you.”

The cup froze at his mouth.

Without taking a sip, he lowered it. Then he put it down and moved behind his desk to stare out the window. “Who have you been talking to, Kit?”

I started to move my knee back and forth. “Am I going to sound terribly childish if I say I asked you first?”

“Sound as childish as you want. But you’re more likely to get answers from me if you cooperate.” His eyes narrowed ever so slightly. Then a faint smile appeared on his face. “You can always ask Damon. However, if you wanted to do that, you would have. You often end up in messes that worry him, a fact I’m sure you’re aware of. This is likely why you came to me instead.”

“You’re telling me this because…” I drummed my fingers on the arm of the chair as I stared at him.

“Only two people possess the information you’re looking for—or possess an in-depth knowledge of it. That I know of. Damon hasn’t spoken to you—he wouldn’t, not about this. If somebody has spoken to you…” He let the words trail off.

“If you’re worried my source might be behind these disappearances, you can draw your claws back in, Chang.”

“My claws aren’t out.” A brow lifted. “Yet.”

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Your romance hero isn’t a football playing king in space…with a mustache

Why, yes.  I did just quote Spongebob there.

I just finished reading a book.  I can’t tell you the title.

The author can write.  The writing itself wasn’t bad, a number of the characters themselves varied from interesting to amusing to fairly likeable.

Except the hero.  He was…a name with a bunch of titles.

Let me explain.

The word counts imposed by the publisher of the line, I think, could have limited her ability to really flesh out the hero, but the problem really started when she tried to give the hero what seemed like every possible trope she could think of.

He was a cowboy.  Of course he was.

He was a genius. Of course he was.

He was a hacker. Of course he was.

He was filthy rich. Of course he was.

There were five other things I can list here that go along with the ‘typical’ tropes you see in a cateogory romance, but I’m trying to be vague here.

Now Mr.Filthy Rich Hacker Genius Cowboy with five other tropes that I’m not going to list is merrily living his life–and happily–until his spunky heroine up and interrupts his well-planned life–of course.  And he realizes this while in the middle some sort of uber-important business thing, but he’s not thinking about business.  He’s thinking of…her wit?  Nope.  Her smile?  Nope.  How much he likes her?  How about how much she just downright drives him CRAZY? Nope.  He comes to this stunning conclusion while thinking about…her body–of course.

But during this time we never really see anything inside this guy. Except when he’s ruminiating about how hot she is.

He has the emotional depth of a rain puddle.

Maybe he never had time to grow feelings while learning how to hack, building his portfolio, roping broncos, saving cute little horsies that wandered far from the range and earning multiple degrees–and noticing the heroine’s cute, pert nipples, goodness me.

Yes, we are all over the place here and I haven’t even touch on the several other tropes that I’m not mentioning.

But there was no room for character development.

Character development is essential.

Being rich doesn’t make a character a hero.

Being a cowboy doesn’t make a character a hero.

Being a genuis doesn’t make a character a hero.

Being a hacker doesn’t make a character a hero.

Sure, we read all about these things in characters we end up loving, but what really draws us to these characters is who they are–not what they are and we can’t find out who they are unless we get to spend time inside their heads, time that doesn’t involve just thinking about sex.

Characters are all that much more appealing if they seem real, after all.  They can’t be real if they’re just a bunch of tags, tropes and titles.

So, there’s my writer two cents for the day.

 

**Football Playing King in Space… Courtesy of…Spongebob

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Edged Blade excerpt

Here ya go… along with a rubber ducky.

 

There are some people who could get in trouble with a wet bag and a rubber ducky.

I know.

I’m one of them.

There I was, standing with a wet bag, eggs oozing out of it, half of my groceries for tonight all over the ground and a rubber ducky in my hand. I’d dropped one of the bags when a small tornado had almost bowled me over. I’d held onto the other, although thanks to the smashed eggs, the stuff in it was probably ruined.

Sighing, I looked down at the bag and then the ducky.

Said duck belonged to the little girl cowering at my feet.

Or maybe not…

“This doesn’t concern you.”

The words were delivered in a cloud of garlic and undercooked meat as a man came storming my way. He went to snatch the duck away and I whipped my hand out of his reach.

“She stole it,” he said.

“I’ll pay for it,” I said calmly. “Just tell me how much it is.”

“I’m not selling it to you.” His lip curled and he glanced down at the girl. He went to grab her. I dropped the rest of my groceries and shoved my hand against his chest.

He went flying back.

I took advantage of the momentary distraction to pick up the girl and put her in my car. I’d only barely had the chance to shut the door when he came rushing at me. Magic sparked around him as he swung out at me.

Splintered power danced in the air around him. An untrained witch, probably watered down—just enough ability to light a fire—or make him feel tough.

Ducking under the punch, I slammed my fist into his gut and spun away.

He lumbered after me.

I caught the next punch.

His face went red as I started to squeeze. I heard bones break.

As he started to squeal, I flung his hand away.

“Well. This is entertaining.”

With a disgusted sigh, I looked up as Megan Banks came striding up.

Megan was the second in command for the local wolf pack. She looked like a soccer mom, cussed like a sailor and had a jaw like a brick wall. I’d broken my hand on that jaw of hers. As I caught sight of the amusement in her eyes, I relived that moment. It had been worth it.

Blowing out a disgusted breath, I looked at the groceries I’d dropped when the little girl had plowed into me. The eggs were a lost cause. “Hi, Megan. Long time, no see. Oh, you’re in a hurry? Sorry to hear that. See ya.”

She chuckled as she knelt down next to me. “I’m here to speak with the man you made cry like a baby.” She picked up a packet of steak and held it out. “Planning on having company?”

I just stared.

“It’s been a while since I’ve seen the Alpha. Perhaps I should swing by and just touch base. It’s a courtesy…from the pack to the clan.”

“Come by my house tonight and die.”

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Edged Blade…

Like, um… three more weeks?  I think?

 

Vampires weren’t a compassionate race, but they were a cunning one. Sometimes they had bad eggs. Bad eggs didn’t bode well for them. Sadly, their idea of a bad egg and everybody else’s idea of bad egg didn’t exactly align.

“We have a…contact,” Justin said. “He doesn’t exactly work for Banner, but he’s been known to take on contracts and he gets good intel. I’ve spoken to him.”

Without turning my head, I slid my gaze back to him. “A vampire.”

He didn’t answer that, just continued on with what he was saying. “He’s in the line of one of the missing bloodsuckers. He says there’s just a disconnect.”

I shook my head and frowned. “A disconnect?”

“Yep.” He looked around and then grabbed the notepad on the corner of my coffee table. “Here.”

Justin sketched out a series of circles, connecting them by lines. It reminded me of…well, of a chemical formula more than anything else. Inside the circles, instead of elements, he’d scrawled names. A few of them, I recognized. Most of them didn’t cause much reaction, other than my now-instinctive dislike of vampires, but others would have made my heart lurch in fear, if I had allowed it.

“This is the direct line and the closest relation for my contact.”

I saw the name. Immediately, my spine stiffened. Allerton.

Abraham Allerton.

“I know him,” I said softly.

Paddy looked up as Justin continued his sketch. “D’ ya now? He’s not a bad man to have at your back in a fight.”

“I’d rather stick a knife in my own back.”

 

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Helping out! I’m a little late with this one… #SOS

I got this from Kelly last week, but I’m running behind.

Her email:

Hi helpers….one of our marines has a birthday on the 23rd….might be pushing it to get boxes but if we can get cards to him that would be great…if you want to send a package that is fine too but might get there late, having said that I am sure he won’t mind!
GYSGT Joe Diehl
HMH 465 Maintenance Control
Unit 26177
FPO,AP 96427-6177

If you’re unfamiliar with my SOS posts, please read here before asking Qs.  It answers most, if not all, the typical questions.  Please note that yes this is a bit late, but trust me…these guys don’t really mind if they get a card, letter or package a few days late.  A note knowing that people are thinking of them makes all the difference in the world!

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Some J.C. Daniels news…

I’ll be having at least one more J.C. Daniels book out this year…but it’s not a Kit book.

It’s not urban fantasy, either.

J.C. is trying her hand at science fiction. SF with a splash of romance.

Here’s a snippet of FINAL PROTOCOL, due out from Samhain in July.

~*~

Some people said that this was what Old Earth would be like by now. Well, except for the population thing.  Aris still had a thriving population.  Disease and war had all but decimated Old Earth.  There were rumors that those who had remained behind no longer even resembled anything that we’d consider human.

Personally, I think human is just another word for animal.  None of us are worth much.  Me, included.

The ariste were a different beast altogether. Some of the kindest, most gentle people I’d ever come across resided here, on this hot, desert planet that travelled too close to its sun.  The people made me nervous and I wanted nothing more than to kick the dust of this planet off my shoes and leave it far behind.

Leave these smiling people far behind.

I had very little use for people in general.  If I couldn’t fuck it, then the only time I was likely to come in contact with anybody was when I was sent a contract to kill.

Like this old man, with his round, cheerful face and his silver eyes—ariste eyes, hidden behind the tinted lenses he wore.

I was here to kill him.

And he knew.

A smile creased his face as I moved into the room, not bothering to conceal myself.

He already knew I was there.  Why bother to hide?

Either he’d called for help, which would mean I had to move things along, or he thought he could handle me myself.

Neither would change the outcome.

He would die, because the alternative was that I would likely die and I didn’t plan on that being the case.

He nodded at the table where he sat.

“Would you join me?”

I paused, my hand on the darts I’d planned to use.  The problem was he hadn’t been on the long, narrow balcony taking his normal walk.  He was ariste, and one of the older ones.  They had a thing about the setting sun.  It was a religious fascination as far as I could tell.  All of the houses had balconies that faced the west, so they could watch as the brutal, burning sun sank below the horizon.  Even the poorest of families would struggle to get a simple opening so the family could face the death of the day.

Cree Ru was far from poor.

Yet he hadn’t taken his sunset walk.

“Come.” He smiled at me.  “Sit.”

I said nothing. I knew better.  My voice could be used to track me, pin me to the crime, if anybody was successful at hunting me down.  I’d evaded capture on a dozen planets in four different systems. This was an amateur’s mistake.

Just like walking in that open door was an amateur’s mistake, I chided myself.

“You will not sit then.” Cree nodded.  “Very well.  I’ll speak a bit.  I’ve time yet.”

He must have sensed something because he slid me a small smile.  “No.  The authorities weren’t alerted.  I sensed you three days ago and had the time since then to decide on the actions I’d take.  First, I had to think about who must have hired you.”

That wasn’t an answer I could give him.

I accepted the money, the job, all from my handler. There were other things I took from him, and some things he forced on me, but he never told me who hired me.  It was essential, he’d once told me, that he protect his clients.  Names were never given.

Cree didn’t let my silence stop him as he leaned back, steepling his fingers together as he looked out into the night.  He had thick, floor to ceiling walls of what the locals called plaris.  It made me think of the pilastene, a manufactured material that was used in almost everything for those who’d settled the New Earth colonies.

The NE colonies weren’t home to me, but many of my tools were NE made.  It was what I was familiar with, what I was used to. Pilastene was nearly unbreakable, safe to manufacture and inexpensive.

Plaris, like ‘stene, was durable, and nearly unbreakable, something that served this volatile planet well, designed to endure quakes that could have leveled cities.  His entire home was made of plaris, and the windows were the clear stuff, the most pricy form of it out there.  Eyes on the night sky, he studied the twin moons and said, “I hated to admit it to myself, but there are only two people who would have done this. Only two who would benefit.  My son and his wife.”

Arching my brows, I edged in closer, searching for weapons.  So far, I’d yet to see a single one.

“I cannot tell if the look on your face is curiosity or merely an attempt to distract me.”  He sighed and then reached out, pushed a plate toward me.  “If you are any good at your job, you’ll recognize this.”

My eyes moved to the plate, a thin disk of what looked like hammered gold.

The sight of the three small berries there made my belly clench, even if I was there to kill him.

Death’s seal, the most poisonous plant in three systems.  Deadly, and outlawed on almost every planet in those three systems.  Just the touch of it on the tongue was enough to kill a child.  Half of a berry could kill a woman my size.  Three berries could kill three men.

“I’m going to make this easy,” he said quietly.  “My son seeks to kill me, thinking he’ll inherit.”

Cree reached for a berry.

“Wait,” I said, the word ripping out of me despite my intention not to speak.  “Why?  If you wish to fight him, then why do this?”

“I don’t wish to fight him.”  He smiled, rolling the berry between his fingers.  “I wish to deny him what he tries to take by betrayal.”  Then he shrugged.  “And I refuse to let him use another in his endless vendetta against me. Do you know…it’s our belief that for every life you take, you must save two more if you want to leave this existence with your soul intact.”

I inclined my head.  “I have no soul left.  You do this for nothing if you try to spare me.”

“If you had no soul, it wouldn’t concern you to see this berry in my hand.”

He smiled at me as he tossed it up in the air.

I don’t know why I did it.

It should mean nothing to me.

I could easily claim his death as my own.  Poison wasn’t unknown to me.  I suspected I even knew who had provided him with those three priceless, deadly berries.

But my hand moved, almost as though it had a mind of its own and the sliver-thin dart stole the berry from the air and I quickly used two more darts to destroy the other two berries.  He could still lick the plate, I supposed, but somehow I didn’t see this regal, elegant man choosing that route.

“Why?” he asked, his voice puzzled.

Staring at the plate, at the thin stalks of the darts, I shook my head.  “I don’t know,” I murmured.  Then I looked at him.  “Do you count now?  As one half of a life?”

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